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Hospitals face COVID challenges compounded by staffing shortages

Published: Aug. 31, 2021 at 6:01 PM EDT
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RUTLAND, Vt. (WCAX) - The current COVID surge is causing hospitals to reevaluate their policies around visits and procedures, a situation made more challenging by a shortage of medical staff.

Just like many industries, hospitals are experiencing a shortage of workers. Nurses in staffed areas are picking up additional hours to help bridge the gap.

“It’s not something that seems like it could be sustainable for a long time,” said Betsy Hassan, the chief nursing officer at the Rutland Regional Medical Center.

The staffing shortage means each day the hospital determines how many beds it can handle based on the number of patients entering the emergency department.

Rutland Regional Medical Center President and CEO Claudio Fort says, nationally and locally, the health care system is at a critical point, comparing current concerns to March 2020.

“A high volume of patients with limited staff resources to take care of them, that’s where we are at Rutland Regional and I think that’s where every hospital is in the Northeast, and certainly in our region,” Fort said.

The hospital is currently staffed for 100 of its 144 inpatient beds. All 13 beds in the ICU are full. The hospital says not all are COVID patients, but would not give us specific numbers.

“We did have to close five of our general med surge beds, that was due to staffing demand,” Hassan said.

The University of Vermont Medical Center says it is recruiting providers and using temporary staff to help make up for their shortage. And UVMMC is postponing some surgeries due to its high number of patients.

RRMC is trying to avoid canceling elective surgeries but Hassan says the staff monitors the caseload every day.

“We are looking at the cases that either require inpatient bed versus what we are seeing in our emergency department and the impact it would have to those patients, as well,” she said.

Because people feel safer to have elective surgeries and go to the emergency department for non, semi and true urgent care, RRNC has about 20% more patient volume within the emergency department.

“But we are concerned that a flood of COVID-positive patients could tip that delicate balance, so that is why we are really pushing people to be safe,” Fort said.

The Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and Rutland Regional have both revised their visitation rules, limiting the number of guests. UVM Medical Center has not made any changes at this time.

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